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Bridging the Nutrition Gap – with Uri L’Tzedek (July 26)

Next Tuesday, July 26, join Repair the World grantee-partner, Uri L’Tzedek for a discussion about global hunger, social justice and bridging the nutrition gap in America and across the developing world.

The event will feature two incredible speakers – Peter Mann, the Director Emeritus of the Global Movements Program at Why Hunger, and Rabbi Jon Kelsen, who is on faculty at the Drisha Institute in New York.

Uri L’Tzedek’s work with Tav HaYosher – their grassroots initiative to create just and safe working environments for kosher restaurant employees – has helped raise awareness about food and social justice from the worker’s perspective. This event will expand the conversation outward, and explore our responsibility and opportunity to help create a more just world and better food access for everyone.

July 26, 7:30pm
Drisha Institute, 37 W. 65th St, New York City

Repair Essay: Serving in Argentina with JDC

This essay was originally published on JDC’s In Service Blog (JDC is a Repair the World partner grantee), and was contributed by Ariel Bronstein who served in Argentina with Tufts Hillel and JDC Short-Term Service in May.

On the flight home from Argentina I had a lot running through my mind. As I recalled moments on the trip that really stuck with me, I thought to myself that I must join JDC’s efforts and continue helping the Jewish community in Argentina once I return home. I thought about the homes I visited and life stories people told.

One such story was a single mother living in a small one-room home that she shared with her 5-year old son, Maximo. The room was just big enough to fit two mattresses, a small round table and a small refrigerator. The mother and son had to walk down the hall to the communal bathroom and kitchen.
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US, Israel teachers join forces

Top Teach For America corps members are meeting with their Teach First Israel counterparts to learn from one another how best to inspire students in disadvantaged areas to succeed in school and to work on a communal vision of educational equality.

The encounter is just one stop for Teach For America corps members on the REALITY Israel Experience program, supported by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation (CLSFF) and the Samberg Family Foundation in partnership with Teach For America and the ROI Community of Young Jewish Innovators.

The 10-day trip is designed to introduce corps members to Israel’s education and social justice systems, give them exposure to top Israeli leaders and thinkers, and help them uncover and recommit to the values that drive their passion for public service.

“By partnering with Teach For America to create the REALITY program, we hope to inspire corps members to embark on meaningful engagement with their personal journeys and with Israel, as well as cultivate long-term dedication toward Jewish community involvement and service,” said Lynn Schusterman, chair of CLSFF, speaking on behalf of both foundations.

“Our gathering will not stop at trading teaching tips,” said Andrew Mandel, Teach For America’s vice president of interactive learning and engagement. “It will involve sharing what we are learning from our experiences in the classroom and what larger changes it suggests we must make in our respective countries on behalf of our students and communities.”

Both Teach For America and Teach First Israel are based on a simple but powerful concept: Enlist top college graduates to become lifelong champions for educational equity by first recruiting them to teach for two years with students from low-income backgrounds.

They are both part of the Teach For All network—a collection of independent social enterprises working to expand educational opportunities in their respective countries—and are highly selective.

Last year, 48,000 people applied for 5,200 spots with Teach For America. Similarly, Teach First Israel chose 90 out 1,400 applicants for the coming school year. In 2011-2012, it will be expanding from Jerusalem, Beersheba, Haifa, Horfeish, Holon, Bat Yam, Petah Tikva and Or Yehuda to include schools in Lod, Akko, Kiryat Shmona, Arad and Dimona.

Among the 57 Teach For America corps members participating in the 2011 REALITY Israel Experience are:

Jessica Bero, who worked as a chef before joining Teach For America, helping to turn around Kansas City’s largest soup kitchen by bringing students in as kitchen staff.
Eric Poris, a math teacher at American Horse School on the Pine Ridge Native American Reservation in South Dakota and the only Jew on the reservation. He has also taught in the Swiss Alps, Brazil and Peru.
Leora Sher, who taught adolescent AIDS awareness in the villages of South Africa before she began teaching in Chicago.

The REALITY Israel Experience introduces corps members, leaders in their own right, to key Israeli figures in the education and social action movements, and to trailblazing Israeli initiatives like B’Maagalei Tzedek, Atid Bamidbar and Friends of the Earth.

Not only are participants examining the values that drive their commitment to public service, they are also exploring the connection between Jewish values, public service and how the two reinforce each other.

Creating better future for children worldwide
REALITY trips for Teach for America corps members were also conducted in the summers of 2009 and 2010, and the impact of the visit to Israel is profound. According to The REALITY Israel Experience: An Impact Study, it strengthens the link between participants’ Jewish identity and passion for service while deepening their commitment to social justice and the Teach For America mission.

Rachel Brody embodies REALITY’s transformational power. Before she participated in the first REALITY trip in 2009, she had never been involved in the Jewish community nor did she connect her dedication to teaching students with disabilities to Jewish values. Today she is a PresenTense Fellow in Jerusalem, where she is working on AIM, or Abilities Inclusion Movement, a social start-up that will train and certify organizations and businesses to integrate people with disabilities.

“I had never felt any connection with Israel or felt particularly Jewish,” Brody said. “Coming here on REALITY, I learned a lot about Israel and Judaism. I felt a connection with Judaism that I did not feel before. I especially identified with tikkun olam and tzedaka.”

Indeed, the REALITY Israel Experience anticipated the finding of the recently released Volunteering + Values: A Repair the World Report on Jewish Young Adults. As reported by CNN, this study underscored the need for programs that help young Jews see their volunteerism through the lens of a Jewish framework to ensure an active, enduring commitment to service and to strengthen the Jewish community’s social impact.

“It is our hope,” said Adam Simon, CLSFF’s associate national director, “that the success of the REALITY program will encourage future partnerships with secular service organizations, as well as become a model for engaging young Jews in service as a way to lead richer, more meaningfully Jewish lives.”

The encounter also promises great benefits to the Teach First Israel participants, who have just completed the program’s inaugural year.

“Meetings such as these expand their horizons, enrich their perspective, enable them to see that they are not alone and that teachers in other countries experience similar situations,” said Asaf Banner, CEO and co-founder of Teach First Israel, a joint initiative of the Ministry of Education, JDC-Israel, HaKol Hinuch and the Naomi Foundation.

“This peer-to-peer opportunity to share tips, knowledge and best practices is empowering. They will come out of it more motivated, knowing they are part of a global movement of young leaders who want to create a better future for children around the world.”

Values and Volunteering

I have learned many an important lesson from my father, lessons which I carry with me to this day. Better to get an average grade and not cheat than to copy from another student and get an ‘A’. If the grocer gives you too much change you must return it, even if you have to walk all the way back to the store. Always keep an eye open for an older person who might need help. And the one that resonates with me every day, the one that I try to listen to as much as I can, admit when you have made a mistake. There is nothing wrong with saying that you could have done better. As individuals we always have something to learn, and as a community, as a people, we always have a new lesson waiting around the corner. Such is the challenge of the Jewish people. To learn our lessons, act, and move on.

In this spirit, the recent Volunteering + Values report from the Repair the World leaves me to reflect with candor. This is a report which we as a community should find alarming. We are sending young Jewish adults out into the world to make a difference, to make a change when they don’t even know why they are doing it. But if we are to sustain our people, if we are to continue the heritage of Tikun Olam then volunteering has to be one part of a bigger personal Jewish identity. Our young adults need to know why their contribution is different and important – why it is part of the big picture of leading a Jewish life and WHAT that big picture of Jewish life is all about.

After I read the nine strategic implications in the report I could not help but think that there is a tenth. The missing implication, the missing link, the missing ‘mistake’ is that this report does not touch on the one factor which does make a difference as to whether a young Jewish adult sees their volunteering as a Jewish act.

The one factor is the central role a strong, vibrant, and relevant Jewish identity could play in the mind and heart of today’s young Jewish adult. A comprehensive Jewish identity which would touch multiple elements of their lives and give them daily messages of personal and community responsibility would drive them to see their volunteering as not only a Jewish act but a Jewish obligation.

In his book Defending Identity, Natan Sharansky defines personal identity in the context of our survival of and as a democratic world. Now maybe as a Jewish child of the 70’s I sometimes see the world through the bars of the Let My People Go poster which I had hanging in my bedroom with Ida Nudel’s picture on it, but if there is one person in contemporary Jewish life who can define Jewish identity and explain what it means to create one, it is Natan Sharansky. He describes the ‘universal quality of identity’ as one which ‘gives life meaning beyond life itself’ and ‘offers a connection to a world beyond the self.’ He further explains that identity is developed by association with others who share similar backgrounds, by connecting with previous generations and/or by being a part of a nation or culture. Identity gives one a sense of life beyond the physical and material where one feels a sense of belonging to something greater than oneself. It was this sense of identity which gave Sharansky the strength to stand up to the strongest and most powerful regime in the world. A regime which aimed to crush him and his identity.

Our identity as the Jewish people goes back thousands of years in time and is rich with culture, community, hope and a commitment to not only remember but to act. To give, teach, learn, and do. We are a people of action so naturally a message of Tikun Olam is easy to convey. Yet a strong personal and community identity cannot be sustained in the long run without the other elements of being, doing and leading a Jewish life.

Folks, it is a package deal. This is how our ancestors survived pogroms, oppressive regimes, and our being thrown out of our land and exiled. And so the missing tenth ‘strategic implication’ – a well developed Jewish identity – will allow us all to look at the volunteer experience not in a vacuum but rather as one part of the whole Jewish package.

We cannot build one element of someone’s identity without other ‘have to do’s’ such as joining or forming a Jewish community, celebrating holidays and Shabbat, pursuing Jewish learning, looking at our roots and history and for every 24 hours doing something Jewish. Maybe we should ask ourselves how we can build a community of young Jewish adults which is educated to fulfill the mission of the Jewish people by being educated on the individual level and collectively making the world a better place. Volunteerism has to be part of life as a ‘whole Jew’ – a complete Jewish identity.

So how do we even approach this doing thing? How do we engage young adults in the personal pursuit of strengthening their Jewish identity?

John Dewey, world-renown educational theorist of the twentieth century, advocates the education by experience model. His theory of experience focuses on the individual having experiences of the right character in the appropriate settings and is based on the experiential continuum principle.

As we all know there are some experiences which are worthwhile educationally and others which are not. Dewey argues that it is necessary to use the principle of continuity of experience (meaning the repetition of an act) as criteria for determining whether the act is worthwhile or not. This discrimination then leads to the creation of habits – those actions we repeat, customize and perfect as we do them and as time elapses. The creation of a new habit transforms the person and engages them in the development of their personal identity. This is how opinions and attitude are formed and sensitivities developed.

The principle of continuity of experience means that each act, each experience blends into the being of the person. Remember when you were learning the ABC’s? How did you eventually know it? After you sang it over a hundred times and your parents were climbing the walls you knew it and then it became automatic – so much a ‘habit’ that when you learned to use a dictionary finding words was easy – you referenced back to your continued knowledge. This is what we call growing.

We can do better. We have for thousands of years. I am putting together a team of young adults who will be collecting and distributing ways for their peers to enhance their Jewish identity and since everyone has something to share we would like to ask each of you to take some time and send us one idea, one thought that could give us the guidance we need to make a difference.

Lisa Barkan is the Co-Founder and Director of Volunteer Jerusalem and Jerusalem Challenge and can be reached at [email protected]